For months, and some would say years, the divide between the wants of the Georgian people and the desires of the government have been rapidly polarizing. Even the most aloof among observers would see that the majority of the public clamors for European and NATO collaboration and membership. Meanwhile, the government, in the most favorable assessment, has dawdled upon, and at worst purposefully inhibited, these aspirations.
Using history as a poignant reminder, governments that operate perpendicular to the will of the people tend to have their political (and sometimes literal) lifespans curtailed. Be it from an internal and peaceful “color” revolution, an ousting by force of arms, or by foreign intervention, these entities dig their own proverbial graves by laying the legal and political groundwork to formulate their downfall.
Many of Georgian Dream’s supporters harken back to images of peace, foreign investment, and domestic investment. However, the truth is a mirror of the upcoming dilemma voters face in 2024 – the lack of any viable alternative. Since 2012, heavyweight party Georgian Dream, along with a small contingent of politically petit-figured allies, has thwarted opponents from the United National Movement (UNM) and its league of oppositionist parties.
Praise is well due; the government has launched several initiatives to draw more investment, create jobs, and develop the nation’s infrastructure. Then came Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that, despite pro-Kremlin apologists’ statements, was wholly intended to remove Ukraine as a functional state. The shockwaves of this sent a fissure between countries, communities, and even friend groups.
Unexpectedly, that splintering occurred in Georgia between the majority of the country’s population and its ruling party. Georgia, being a victim of the Kremlin’s transgressions, was fully expected to join the likes of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and a host of others that had first-hand recorded and witnessed the brutality of Moscow’s iron-fisted imperialist reach. However, in a shock to Brussels, Washington, and the collective West that took a stand against Russian aggression, Tbilisi slumped back in its chair, unmoving, unperturbed, and seemingly uninterested.
While hundreds and later thousands of volunteers from the country flowed into Ukraine to join resistance units and become professional soldiers in the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, Tbilisi scowled. In response, so as not to be obtusely labeled as pro-Russian, the government authorized the shipment of non-military aid. Bandages, generators, and other non-combat supplies were sent, and while these were helpful, they were not the war-winning support Kyiv requires. Other non-government organizations filled the gap, sending drones, money for equipment, vehicles, and even on occasion privately acquired intelligence. Again, Tbilisi sat silent, content with its lackluster contributions.
Fast-forward into spring of 2023, and the ruling party has changed its spots once again. The party went from the passive position of nominal support to that of actively parroting Kremlin lines and rebuking Western leaders, who have continued to be ardent supporters and backers of Georgia. Then, rather than develop an alternative narrative, the party doubled down and took the route of least resistance by answering prying questions from the press with combative responses, and ultimately verbally sparring with formerly friendly politicians on social media.
Now, the party survives on two primary lifelines; its small but hardline base of supporters, and the cash cow that is Bidzina Ivanishvili. This small legion of supporters, unwavering in their blind allegiance, enshrine their place on the ballot. The virtually unlimited budget that Bidzina, or by his more satirical Russian moniker ‘Boris’, is one he has reaped from post-Soviet corruption. This virtually endless flow of cash allows the party to give Ivanishvili and his cohorts the means to make certain “assurances”.
However, as a proverbial ship with multiple holes can only be fixed so many times, so too can the sinking ship that is Georgian Dream only be kept afloat for so long. Despite “all the king’s men” attending to the fragile nature of the party, the sunset is on the horizon. A popular movement that has overwhelmingly urged the nation towards Europe cannot be ignored.
But there should be immense caution among these Westward aimed groups. In another similar proverbial tale, it may be in the very nature of a power-centric party. The tale of the scorpion and the frog tells the story of the two attempting to cross a river. The frog, wary that the scorpion may sting it, is convinced to help the scorpion by the argument that if he were to sting him, they would both drown, thus there is no incentive for him to do so. However, the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, apologizing to him as he does, for it is “just in his nature to do so.”
While the removal of the ruling party may remove some of the roadblocks to EU and NATO integration, it could also make the nation vulnerable and potentially create a power vacuum, drawing opposition parties against each other. Pro-Democracy and pro-European groups should thusly be wary. Just as both sides aim for the same European destination, it may very well simply be in the nature of Georgia’s “scorpion” to lash out and foil such attempts at integration with the country’s Western partners.